It is, perhaps, fitting that this post is delayed due to a long day at work. As a general rule, I’m an 8-hour-a-day kinda gal. I work hard while I’m at the office, make sure to meet all my deadlines, and try to make the office better for my having shown up to work. But by 4:30 or 5, I’m ready to be done. Not in a “I paid my time” kind of way, but in a “my brain cannot continue” sort of way. After 8 hours of staring at a computer screen, I just need to stop. I need to create something – homemade stew or a flower arrangement or a letter for a friend. And I need to turn my mind to other things. Sometimes I get lost in a book or meet a friend for dinner or just spend a few hours with a journal, people-watching at the town center by my house. And although that may sound ordinary, around here, that balance is a gift. And so I try to have a good attitude about the long days, because I am grateful that they are not the norm.
DC jobs that do more than pay lip-service to work-life balance are few and far between. Sixty or seventy hour weeks are significantly more common than 40-hour ones, and even more so as you move up the ladder. But that’s not the kind of story that I want my life to tell; I want to color that relationships and rest provide and the clarity that comes after an honest vacation. And in this, I have been truly fortunate.
Since moving to DC, I have worked for three vastly different organizations – the U.S. Senate, a small research-based non-profit, and a very large corporate consulting firm. The cultures of each have been as different as their dress codes and their mission statements. But in all three, I was able to find balance. On the hill, that looked like embracing the long days, but knowing that recess was right around the corner. Then, in the private sector, that meant conveying my own expectations for balance and them taking advantage of flexible work schedules and the ability to work remotely. Because of the generosity and flexibility of my employers, I’ve been able to routinely take completely off-line vacations, schedule long weekends with friends, and stay in Ohio for the full week between Christmas and New Years, even if my vacation days are all spent. My companies have sent me on trips to Ohio, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, and Nashville, functionally paying for me to visit dear family and friends. Particularly in my twenties, as I worked to continue nurturing old relationships and investing in new ones, this has been a gift.
But I don’t want you to think that my only gratefulness toward work lies in what I am able to do once I leave work; far from it. Although every job has its days of drudgery, on the whole, I have loved the work that I am able to do and the people who work by my side. I’ve been given tremendous opportunities to learn about the intricacies of our government, outcomes for vulnerable families and every facet of our educational system. I’ve learned how to talk to complete strangers for two uninterrupted hours and how to fix complex statistical syntax when one seemingly insignificant variable changes. I can speak semi-coherently about overhead costs and direct you to the coffee shop hiding in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building and tell you which hotel chains are most likely to accommodate your per diem. It is important to me that I keep learning, and my jobs have been full of opportunities at every turn.
During fellows year, we spent much of our class time talking about vocation – how work fits into a Kingdom economy and how to view the daily tasks that now occupied much of our time. It was impressed upon me that work is good; that by engaging in work, we are imaging our creator; that the actual tasks we were accomplishing were contributing to a flourishing society according to the creation mandate. This involved more of a shift in perspective than changes to my typical work day. But with eyes to see, the evaluation reports that I write are enabling programs to run more effectively and children to learn more. Sure, re-formatting a table for the third time isn’t anyone’s idea of fun, but it will convey the information better so that more people can understand. And that may be small, but that does not make it insignificant.
On top of all of this, I’ve also just had a lot of fun. I’ve traveled to new cities with coworkers who have become dear friends and had the opportunity to wander freely around nearly every government building. Alongside coworkers, I’ve gone office trick-or-treating (in full costume), competed in office-based Olympics, had chili cook-offs, recurring meetings at chick-fil-a, and engaged in semi-sanctioned limbo contests. Outside of work, I’ve met up with coworkers for happy hours, birthday parties and museum tours, and this weekend, I’ll be cheering at the Ohio State game alongside my boss. There are more than 5 million people living in the greater DC area, and I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the best of them.
And so, I am grateful. My twenties have been full of meaningful work that can be used to help our world flourish, and on days when it feels like the darkness might be winning, that is no small task. Beyond even the worth and dignity of the work itself, my specific jobs have afforded me surprising flexibility to see those that I love and to pursue my other interests. So thanks for the last decade, work. I look forward to many more.